INDIANAPOLIS — Relatives and school officials said Tuesday they were working with U.S. officials to free three American college students arrested during protests in Cairo, where an Egyptian official said they were throwing firebombs at security forces.
An Egyptian official said the students were arrested on the roof of a university building near Tahrir Square. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because there was no authorization to speak to the media.
The U.S. Department of State said it was aware of the detentions of three U.S. citizens in connection with Tahrir Square protests and was seeking access.
The wave of protests and violence across Egypt that began Saturday has left 29 dead and thrown the country's politics into chaos less than a week before landmark parliamentary elections were to begin. Tens of thousands of people filled Tahrir Square on Tuesday to intensify pressure on Egypt's military leaders to hand over power to a civilian government.
A spokeswoman for the American University in Cairo identified the students as Luke Gates, a 21-year-old Indiana University student from Bloomington, Ind.; Derrik Sweeney, a 19-year-old Georgetown University student from Jefferson City; and Gregory Porter, a 19 year-old Drexel University student from Glenside, Pa.
Morgan Roth said the three students had been held by Egyptian authorities since their arrest Monday night but she did not know whether they had been formally charged or what the charges might be. She said it wasn't unusual for American students to get "caught up" in Egyptian politics.
"There's a lot of very contagious passion right now," she said. Students from the U.S. don't always realize what it's like to live in a country without free speech or other civil liberties, and sometimes are motivated to work to change those conditions, she said.
Egyptian state television showed brief footage of the students' driver's licenses and other documents strewn across a desk while the three young men stood staring at the camera.
Luke Gates' father, Bill Gates, said his son is a junior in a foreign studies program at Indiana University and has been in Egypt since August, studying political science and Arabic.
Sweeney, who did an internship earlier this year in the office of Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., also was studying Arabic.
Georgetown professor Amin Bonnah said Sweeney was the best student in one of his intermediate Arabic classes. Bonnah described Sweeney as funny and pleasant, a student who came after class and to office hours to speak in Arabic and ask questions.
His mother, Joy Sweeney, said described him as a principled person who stands up for his beliefs. But she also said her son was the peacemaker in the family when siblings fought and she couldn't see him acting violently.
"I don't believe that he would intentionally throw a bomb at anyone," Joy Sweeney said. "I don't believe that."
Bill Gates and Joy Sweeney said they have been in contact officials from the U.S. Embassy but have little information so far.
"I don't think anybody really knows what to expect," Bill Gates said.